A Patterdale Expedition

When you book rail tickets four weeks in advance, to get the cheapest prices, you play pot luck with the weather. According to the forecasts, I am going to come up snakes eyes, to mix a metaphor. Thunderstorms all day, England’s World Cup semi-final to be pushed into the reserve day, this is what is promised. Given the weather most of the time since I bought the tickets, sunny, dry, hot, it’s feeding my never very deep-lying paranoia.

Which, given that I am booked on the 7.26am train from Piccadilly, and I am relying on the 203 bus, the only bus to win a Booker Prize for its timetable, is always hyperactive at times like this.

Everything started well. I responded to the alarm at 5.30am. It had been raining until quite recently, for everything outside was wet, but when I got out, ahead of time, it was dry and getting drier, and there was a freshness in the airthat the suggested the grey skies would slowly peel back to reveal the blue beyond.

I’d barely gotten twenty yards when there was a ping in my left calf, suggesting not so much cramp as a pulled muscle. I walked it off gently but this was going to be a true omen for the day.

The 203 upset my model of the Universe by being on time. Indeed, I was inside Piccadily Station, in the ‘Departure Lounge’ for Platforms 13 & 14, by 7.02am, the only hitch being a minor and quickly resolved panic over whether my rail tickets were in my wallet. It was a long time wait but these are the marginsI prefer to work with.

The train was on time, my seat was by the window, albeit looking backwards, and no-one turned up to claim the reserved seat to Glasgow Central next to me so that was my shoulder bag sorted.

There was nothing I could do about the weather so I paid the cloud only occasional mind as we ploughed north, devoting myself to a second attempt to read The Illuminatus Trilogy without stopping, though still without understanding.

This was an express train, stopping only at Preston and Lancaster and due in Penrith after only ninety minutes. Once we reached the shores of MorecambeBay, I switched to scanning the Lakes skyline. It was unpromising: dark, wispy, fragile clouds with a base below 1,000′: not good.

I was hoping for better north of the equivalent of Dunmail Raise but there was a thicker, darker, more pregnant band of cloud, and then suddenly it seemed lighter. Skylines became clearer, sharper. The message was mixed: sunlight on the lower slopes of Mardale, pockets of low cloud around the valley head. Kidsty Pike stood proud but Rampsgill Head was deep-capped.

Out at Penrith for five to nine with an hour to kill, or so I thought. I walked down to the Town Centre. The main street was smaller than I remembered and all the touristy shops seemed to have left. There used to be a  good bookshop somewhere round the back, where I spent a half hour on the morning of my wedding, having run my sister-in-law-to-be and my wife-to-be’s best friend in for last minute essentials. Where it is, if it still exists, I had no idea and I decided against searching for it, the air being an odd mixture of fresh and stuffy.

Thank Heaven I didn’t! I got back to the Rail Station in time to catch the slightly-delayed 9.20am bus, whose driver was in a chatty mood, and who told me tht thee 9.50am bus I intended to catch doesn’t run until theTimetable that comes into force on the 26th!

If I’d missed this bus, it wouldn’t have been fatal to my plans, but as the next bus was 11.20am, I’d have been stuck in Penrith for two hours. Then again, I do have a partly-completed novel with a scene in Penrith, so I could have spentthe time in research.

The sky was a fractal mixture of dark cloud, light cloud and blue spaces. The bus was riding between high hedgerows so it took a while before I could get some sense of the air in Patterdale. When I could see, it looked clear around Ullswater’s lowest reach but cloudy further back. Given the forecast, this was good going.

But when I got off the bus in Pooley Bridge, it was trying to rain, fine, light, sprinkly lane. The Steamer Shop in the Village was closed despite its advertised opening time of 9.15am.

There was nothing to do here either so I strolled on to the steamer landing. This took me across the temporary bridge that stands in the place of the beautiful stone arches destroyed forever by the floods of 2015/16. It’s an ugly, practical thing of steel cross-girders, an eyesore, where the old bridge was a thing of grace and beauty. It’s absence is a pang.

Ullswater, looking down to Hallin Fell

There’s a superb viewpoint just before the landings, by the Birkett Memorial. We came down here on the Saturday evening, for our first view of Ullswater, that holiday, and I took a photo of the lake, looking towards Hallin Fell, with the family at the forefront. I took another one now, in colour, but without anyone to grace it.

Ullswater is my favourite lake, its beautiful curves and bays, and this only the least-interesting reach of it. I haven’t seen it in, probably, about fifteen years and I felt a tremendous sense of contentment. All the visible hills remind me of walks gone past. PlaceFell was capped and dark, so it was Hallin Fell and Beda Head that stood out for me then. The lake chuckled and bubbled past me into the River Eamont.

I narrowed my eyes. Something long and white was crossing below Hallin Fell, turning into Howtown Bay. In a moment’s silence between the passing cars, I heard a distant bell. If I’m not mistaken, that’s my steamer from Glenridding.

This would be my fourth trip on the Ullswater Steamer but the first for this end of the Lake. My first was an impromptu decision on a rainy, cloudy afternoon, when walking was out of the question, Howtown and back. Twice since, I’d taken a one-way trip to Howtown and walked back, the first a solo over Place Fell, the second a family walk down the lakeshore path, which is as lovely as they say it is.

Eventually the steamer emerged and headed towards us. I paid for my ticket (which included 50% off the Ratty for the next twelve months, which gave mean idea…)

‘Raven’ approaches

As soon as the Steamer docked, I was on to it and dodging through the saloon to the foredeck. The commemorative plaque confirmed this was Raven, and in five days time it would be 130 years to the day since it was first launched.

We seemed to race up the lake into the teeth of a flapping wind, Hallin Fell dead ahead, the zigzags of the Hause visible to its left. As we started curving into the Bay, Beda Head became our pointer and little flecks of rain started to flick against my face.

Leaving the Pier at Pooley Bridge

It wasn’t until we started to slow down for Howtown the the magnificent middle reach of the lake, and the fells at the end of it, appeared as if out of nowhere. Sheffield Pike stood proud and sunny but there wasn’t much to see behind it except dark cloud.

We drifted into the Pier, no-one waiting to board us, though two walkers appeared from the direction of the road, only to stand and watch us leave. Twenty-eight people, one baby carriage and two dogs  disembark. I looked at Steel Knott’s steep prow and asked myself, did I really go up that? (yes, I did).

Howtown and Steel Knotts

Off on the next leg. A massive convoy of ducks sat on the surface of the lake on our left bow as we headed outround Hallin Fell. This was the bit I’dreally come here for.

The taped message for the tourist informed us of what to look out for and only made two egregious mistakes in three facts. It places Birkett Crag (no, it’s Fell) on the wrong side of Ullswater and claims Helvellyn is the second highest mountain in England. I don’t dare look up what it said about Donald Campbell.

We took a rather more leisurely turn down the middle reach. Some part of the High Street range, still cloud-clagged, appeared in the gap between Hallin Fell and Place Fell, whilst on the other side, the Hellvellyn range was similar, but someqhat lighter, as if it might finally blow clear.

The middle reach, looking to Sheffield Pike

Approaching the turn into the upper reach, we passed Lady of the Lake on the port bow. Saint Sunday Crag and Dollywaggon Pike, either side of Grisedale, are firmly cloud-blocked, though there’s masses of blue sky above the lake itself. I’ve always felt these names to be strange and foreign-sounding to the Lakes, ever since I first heard my mother mentioning them, way back in the early Sixties. They’re just not Cumbrian to me. Things looked very dirty at the head of Patterdale, where we could see straight into Threshthwaite Glen.

Over to starboard, there was a big hotel on the lakeshore that I tried not to look too closely at. Under an older name than it currently bears, this was where I was married, and there are too many memories in that.

It was still not yet quite midday when I got off the steamerand walked round into Glenridding Village. My plans were flexible enough to give me either two hours or three and a half here, which would be fine if I felt in any way fit for a walk. Indeed, I’d half picked out Keldas, at the foot of Birkhouse Moor, and brought The Eastern Fells in my bag, but I’m achey and creaky and have been all day.

I was trepidatious about what Glenridding might look like, bearing in mind that the floods did a real number on the Vilaage, but the repairs here seemed more complete and nothing appeared to be out of place. I settled into a picnic table and got out my lunch.

The best plan seemed to be to kick back, relax, and enjoy just being here, but I did wander a bit in the direction of the path to Lanty’s Tarn, just to see how far I might get if I went at it slowly. All that got me was some spotty rain, a buzzy insect with an obsession with my right ear and some stomach cramps that suggested I might be better off keeping the Public Conveniences in closer proximity so, despite some increasingly encouraging blue skies, I strolled back.

Sunshine over the Glenridding valley

Down in the valley, the soft breeze was very welcome, and I took root at another picnic table, enjoying the passing pedstrians and returning to my book. I could have dome some writing if the energy possessed me but overall this was not the day for creativity, so I socked up relaxing in Patterdale. Mind you, I noticed a lot of references to ‘The Ullswater Valley’: another Stickle Ghyll in the making?

St Sunday Crag

There was another, slightly more serious spot of rain when I wandered back off to the Pier. We were on Raven again, though this time I headed for the stern for the best views. There was a ton of worrying grinding from the engine, turning to face back down Ullswater, but the mountainscape was at last wonderful, St Sunday Crag sunwashedand magnificent, Dollywaggon dark andslope-shouldered and even a glimpse of a cloud-free Helvellyn as we retreated.


Howtown was the beginning of the end.  Everything after this was journeying back. Waiting in the sweltering heat for the bus in Pooley Bridge. Fifty-five minutes to kill at Penrith Station with nothing to do and nowhere to go, unless you count McDonald’s, so back to my book.

With the exception of the bus to Pooley Bridge, all the travelling’s gone smoothly, all day, but then I go and blow it. My travel notes have me catching the18.06 at Penrith, change at Preston. My ticket was for the 17.50 direct to Manchester Piccadilly, but I didn’t realise this until a mini-argument over who has reserved seat A11. On the 18.06. Oops.

That could have been very expensive, but the ticket inspector on the Virgin train was decent enough to stamp my ticket anyway so my only loss was to get stuck in an aisle seat on a gloriously sunny evening, and unable to see out of either window. And Northern Rail surprise me twice at Preston, first by being dead on time, and then by not coming to check my ticket at all. I was even blessed with sitting opposite a nice-looking young woman, with long brown hair almost the shade mine used to be, and a lovely smile.

I got back to Piccadilly nearly fifteen hours after the alarm woke me, and I didn’t half know it by then. One bus-ride later, and I got off in the only sustained rain I experienced all day, despite the forecasts, and the evening still sunny, offering up a full-arch rainbow above my flat. Mind you, everything that could ache did ache by then, and I’d missed England beating Australia to reach the Cricket World Cup Final. But I’d had a grand day, and I’d been back to Ullswater. Where can I go next?


Re-Planning a Lakeland Expedition

Maybe (again)

Yesterday, a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was recorded in Britain, in winter, for the first time ever.

Today, that record has been broken.

The skies are an unbroken blue, albeit with a tinge of white haze around the horizons. I was hot coming in to work and since my shift started I have been sitting here in a short-sleeved polo shirt, and about five minutes ago I was feeling unconfortably stuffy.

This is Britain in 2019: everything is broken.

Of course, I’m not complaining in the short term. This is nice weather and I’m happy to revel in it. On Sunday, one of my neighbours was out in shorts, sunbathing outside his front door. People continue to deny there’s something wrong with the Earth’s climate.

And the weather, if it can be relied upon and there isn’t a backlash in the immediate future, is tempting me to a day out. And when I say day out, I usually mean a Lake District Expedition: is Patterdale possible yet on current steamer schedules?

The answer is yes: depart Pooley Bridge 12.50, return 15.35, with thirty five minutes stopover at Glenridding. Not great, but feasible. But I can get a bus from Penrith at 11.20 outside the Rail Station, arriving Pooley Bridge 11.50. There’s a much bigger delay on the return, with the only bus leaving Pooley at 17.25 and returning to Penrith Rail Station for 18.09.

And I can do the train journey as two singles (08.47 from Manchester Piccadilly, 18.50 from Penrith), total £27.80 this Saturday coming. I can save £1 by going on Saturday week, but if I book for four weeks in advance, I can reduce the train fares to £21.00, by taking a slightly later train from Penrith.

Hmm. This is doable.

The problem is daylight: it’s starting to be light after 5.00pm now, but it still makes any outing at this time of year a bit too like a Birthday week trip. And if the skies are going to be this clear, and bright, I want all the access to daylight I can get. Nevertheless, with a, say 5.30pm cut-off point for daylight, I’d just about be on the bus at Pooley Bridge when the views vanish.

I wonder if the weather’s going to last…

Imaginary Holidays 2

It’s freezing cold, cloudless and blue skies: why not slip off to the Lake District for another Imaginary Holiday.
This time, we’re definitely heading for Keswick for the start of the week, the early Sunday drive up the Penrith section of the M6, Blencathra’s profile overlooking the A656. I’ve had my return to the hotel overlooking the park, let’s update my nostalgia and rebook for two nights on good old Bridgedale, on the main street, just past the mini-roundabout.
The name of the game is to not use the same book of Wainwright twice in the same week, and to try to go to as many different areas as I can from last time. So, since I didn’t actually do any Patterdale walking last time out, let’s do that.
I’ve climbed Gowbarrow Fell a couple of times in the past, from the Hause, below Little Mell Fell. It’s a lovely, low, rural fell, of gentle gradients. The first time I did it, I parked at the Hause on a Sunday afternoon of gentle sun. There was a wide path leading directly from that spot that Wainwright didn’t mention. I strolled along it, checking my position by his map, curling round a low, green bump and picking up a path onto the summit from behind. Then I returned by the same route.
When I came back with an old friend, recently separated from her husband and children and in need of distraction, we had a Sunday out. I thought of Gowbarrow, but in the meantime, the landowner had padlocked the gate and put up signs very fiercely forbidding access. Instead, we took the car down a bit further towards Patterdale, parking near Watermillock Church.
There was a mostly level path along the flank of the fell, overlooking Ullswater, and we wandered along, chatting. There’s only been a few times since I broke with my family that I’ve gone walking with a companion, and Linda wasn’t a girlfriend (or wife). Indeed, given her current frame of mind with her husband, I was sternly warned about making a pass!

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell

At the ruins of the former refreshment hut we sideslipped up towards the broad back of the fell, and made our way up its back, from a different angle than before.
I could choose an ascent from a direction I’ve not walked before, via Aira Force and Yew Crag, but I’m in the mood for a lazy and undemanding stroll, and the route from Watermillock Church will remind me of older times and a long friendship long broken.
So I’ll stroll along the flank of the fell, through the increasing plantations, until the route via Yew Crag joins from the left and then turn uphill, through an easy tuck, and those who have chosen to assert their rights to roam under the Countryside Rights of Way Act would arrive here over untracked ground, having passed behind the hummock of Great Meldrum, and nothing left but the easy ascent up the back of the summit.
There are three ways back: by the same route, by the farmer’s route, or the longest way round, by descending towards Dockray and following a path above the intake wall, until it reaches a quiet road leading back to just below the Hause. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give myself so much road walking, but this quiet hinterland behind Gowbarrow Fell is beautiful, perfect for a Lazy Sunday afternoon stroll (‘ere, mustn’t grumble…), when the exercise is minimal and the atmosphere is the point of the day.
Of course, I’ve still got to get up and over the Hause. but it’s neither high, nor steep, nor far before I’m trotting downhill again. I think I’ll sit in the car with the door open and all the windows down for a while before driving off.
There should be time for another stroll, back in Keswick, though the town and down towards Derwent Water, turning into the Park and finding a little hummock from which to gaze down the lake towards the Jaws.
But let’s do some serious walking on Monday. My pursuit of the missing views kept me out of the North Western Fells, but there’s a matter I’d like to clear up just to the west of Newlands that should make for an entertaining day using the leg muscles seriously.
I finished off one holiday with an extended Newlands Round – Maiden Moor, Dale Head, Robinson, Hindscarth – in which I rather over-extended myself. I started a nasty headache, under the sun, struggling up the final slopes onto Robinson’s top, and by the time I’d circuited Little Dale to Hindscarth, I was completely drained. The long descent over Scope End was wasted on me as all my focus was on not falling over.
So let’s go back. But rather than repeat the walk, let’s just restrict it to those last two fells, for I wasn’t in the best state to take in Robinson by the time I got there. Call it a circuit of Little Dale, about which Wainwright was so negative, though it looked alright to me on the day. Ridges run in parallel from Newlands. Well supplied with barms and liquid, I’ll hunt out an offroad space close to the lane to Newlands Church, convenient for both.
Re-imagining what it’s like to go up (or down) a ridge I’ve never walked is far from easy. Studying Wainwright, or internet walking sites, or photos of the ground cannot make up for grass and rock under your boots, nor can it tell me what views I will enjoy along the way.
And which way do I walk? Surely Scope End demands ascending? It may be familiar territory, though by the time I descended it I was blurred by headache and exhaustion. But the thought of a new ridge, and one that Wainwright recommends as the best way up Robinson (as well as being anti-clockwise) is almost irresistible, and the thought of having to repeat that tedious, draining slog to the summit off the ridge from Hindscarth settles it.

Robinson the hard way

There’s an easy, pedestrian route into Little Dale, and a trackless climb onto the ridge beyond High Snab Bank, but I have never been inclined to soft ways round, so once I reach the end of the road past Low High Snab, I take to the open fellside, cutting upwards steeply on a well-defined path. This is the way of the North Western Fells: short, steep ascents on grass to gain long, airy ridges, and I curve leftwards into High Snab Bank itself, where the gradient is gentle and the walking can be brisk, until I near the edge of Blea Crags.
Here are three rock steps in succession, across the path, each twenty to thirty feet in height and requiring my scrambling head to get up. I wonder what real-life exertions they’d require, but I think of Stirrup Crag and Lining Crag, and the fun I had on these, and get up them.
Above lies the meat of the ridge, following the edge of Robinson Crags, overlooking the neighbouring valley of Keskadale Beck, where care is needed with an unfenced edge. There’s a rock step on this, just below 1,800 feet, but I think I’d do what I tended to do when I could, and hove a little ‘inland’, far enough not to let my incipient vertigo turn me into a bag of nerves.
As the ground eases, the prominent cairn that suggests it’s the summit is revealed to be a third of a gentle mile off the actual, somewhat sprawling top. This time, I arrive in the same kind of sunshine but without the grinding headache that marred my visit.
It’s a fell-filled view, if the wide top shuts off valley sights, and Floutern Tarn is visible just beyond Hen Comb, but apart from the eating of those barm cakes, this isn’t a summit to inspire an extended stay. Hindscarth is the nearest thing, just across Little Dale, and once refreshed, I am back on actual trodden ground, crossing the top towards the Littledale Edge fence, and following it around east, to the choice of paths: whether to bear left and shortcut across the depression, or continue to the highest point on the ridge to Dale Head and approaching Hindscarth from behind with the benefit of being a purist.
This time, I’ll take it easy, take the ‘shortcut’, avoiding the unnecessary regaining and losing of height.
Let me imagine now that Hindscarth, reached much earlier in the afternoon than before, has other walkers in its summit. Usually, I refer my summits in solitude, when I can get them, but I had that last time, and it felt unwelcome and frightening. No necessity for conversations, perhaps, but a bit of company would restore a psychic balance.
Then off, downhill, on a clear, almost grooved path, with Newlands to the right and below. I can take my time, walk with ease and regularity, enjoy the view rather than concentrate ferociously on where my feet fall, until I cross Scope End and turn downhill, remembering how relieved I was to have gotten here safely.
At the very foot of the ridge, I have a choice: a long contour back left into the valley of Scope Beck, to cross and regain the lane past Low High Snab, or the lane ahead from Low Snab to Newlands Church and, somewhere close by, my car. I think I’ll do it the easy way.
Tuesday begins by packing the car and heading south over Dunmail Raise to lodge in Ambleside until the week ends: where to today?
I’ve already used The Eastern Fells, so how about somewhere Central? I park at somewhere like the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, in the little car park on the opposite side of the Great Langdale Road. The black wood of the Hotel stands out away from the road and behind it, Mill Gill tumbles joyously down the fellside. I know they call it Stickle Ghyll these days, but we are walking inside my head now. The sun sparkles down from above, I change into my trusty boots, tuck my walking jeans into my socks and shrug my Dad’s old rucksack onto my back.
I couldn’t begin to work out the number of times I have been up and down Mill Gill, above the New Hotel, Dungeon Ghyll. The first time goes back to the middle Sixties, when we used the path to the west of the Gill, before it was closed due to erosion, and the last would have been somewhere during the Nineties, maybe even for the original walk of which this imaginary ascent is an extended repeat.
The only highest fell in any of the Wainwright books that I never visited a second time is the Central Fells’ High Raise. Most of the available routes are from the top of Greenup Edge Pass, reached from three different valleys, but no-one wants to go up Greenup Edge if they can help it. When the time came to collect High Raise, I approached from Great Langdale and I propose to do that again.
From the New Hotel, that means crossing the beck by the footbridge to gain access to the east bank of Mill Gill. This is the route I have taken more often than I can remember, but on that last visit, knowing the congested stony stair ahead of me, I was intrigued to see a narrow path head away to the right that was not in Wainwright. Out of curiosity, I followed it.
It proved to be another path, running in parallel to the main drag, about ten yards up the hill. It was narrow and unspoiled and I was completely alone. The walking was a little easier, because the ground had not been broken by overuse, and instead of the walking in this section being a grind, I felt refreshed and cheerful.
The path’s now marked in Hutchby’s Third Edition Wainwright, and it may no longer be the quiet alternative it was when I found it for myself, nor as discrete underfoot, but that’s the route I plan to tread, away from the numbers, as Mr Weller once put it, in his youth.
Given that I’m not aiming for the Langdale Pikes in any way, it would be completely legitimate to take the short cut zigzag route to the east of Tarn Crag (not the one beneath Sergeant Man), but that would be to do myself out of the supreme purpose of climbing to Stickle Tarn: the sight of Pavey Ark rising gradually but majestically over the lip of the final channel, and providing the glorious backdrop to the Tarn itself. No amount of climbing saved can justify passing this sight by.
For High Raise, it’s necessary to follow the shore of the tarn round, paralleling the great cliff-face, and following its feeder, Bright Beck, around the end of Pavey Ark. The crossing to the North Rake on the Ark is passed, and any first time visitor here will mark where it diverges, as did I.

Sergeant Man – my forgotten Wainwright

But we are bound for ahead. Wainwright is not impressed by the ascent after Stickle Tarn, but before too long the route drops into the channel of Bright Beck, and there is a long straight scramble beside the water. I can’t recall, but this may have been my first extended scramble, and I had a whale of a time, hauling myself along by hand and foot.
Ahead, at the top of the channel, was a strange white thing. I was climbing in either late April or early May, a bright, sunny day, but it was clear from a long way down that this was some deposit of snow, sheltered from the spring sun. When I finally got to it, the snow was extensive in depth, at least some ten feet and nearly six feet wide, and it was supported by a mass of long grasses. It looked like a natural ice igloo, that you could wriggle under, though I wasn’t about to try that, because it looked easily fatal if the damned thing collapsed on me.
Actually, the worst part of the walk was getting out of the gully on trackless grass. This brought me out into the open, onto the wide plateau that stands behind the front of the Langdale Pikes, filling the horizon from Grasmere to Langstrath. The sun was high and there was nothing left but an uphill walk to the bare top of High Raise.
In terms of the sheer extent of the flatlands, there isn’t another place in the Lakes that feels so exposed and yet so secure. The views are limited so far as valleys are concerned, but there is nothing for a long way around that overshadows High Raise and diminishes its isolation.
Sergeant Man, a rocky outcrop on the edge of High Raise’s top, is not geographically a separate fell, any more than is Pavey Ark, but on the same basis that Wainwright separated the Ark from Thunacar Knott, he divorces the Man to make it a separate destination, though it would be odd for anyone climbing either fell to ignore the other. The crossing is nothing but a downhill walk, without features, and indeed Sergeant Man is one of the very few Wainwrights about which I have no easily available mental image to call upon when I think of it.
From here, it’s a cross-country walk, downhill all the way, to the edge of the basin that contains Stickle Tarn, and that’s the way I retreated, because I was still bagging Wainwrights and I had already added all those around. But the point of these imaginary holidays is not to simply repeat what I’ve done.
So, instead of bearing off for Stickle Tarn, I shall turn my steps towards the broad ridge between Langdale and Easedale, until I reach the walkers crossroads on the moderate skyline, where the path beyond Easedale Tarn crossed the watershed. I came this way from Easedale once, gaining the ridge here aware that I was actually higher than the next summit along, Blea Rigg.
There’s nothing particularly exciting either at Blea Rigg or on the way to it, but it’s a variation on a walk done, and a change is always welcome. Blea Rigg then, and a slow stroll back, until paths start to lead down towards the Tarn, and then the short cut that doesn’t matter on the return journey, into the channel of Mill Gill, and back along the old familiar path, where twice I was headachey and sick in the same place, on the day of my O-Level results, and the day of the O-Level results two years later, when I’d already had my A-Level results.
For Wednesday, I want to head east, into the lonely country that’s as far away as Lakeland gets. This isn’t going to be an exciting walk, and neither will Thursday’s be, but there’s a thematic continuity between the two that link them. And these are places I have only been once, and thus are territory I want to revisit.
I’m planning a trip to Longsleddale, rounding from Kendal onto the Shap Road, and slipping off into that narrow road along that long, straight, unspoiled valley, as far as Sadgill. Once, there used to be a small parking space, easily filled on a busy day, but the last time I looked into Longsleddale, it looked as if this has swelled into a full-scale car park. Convenient though that would be, I’d rather I was wrong.
Walks along one ridge of a valley have the drawback of ending a long way from where they start. Revisiting Grey Crag and Tarn Crag means a long walk, either way, from the Head of Longsleddale to Sadgill, unless I want the walk to take place in a very small compass. Given the attraction of the Head of Longsleddale, I’d rather not.

Grey Crag – far east

This time, in the peace and quiet, I’m putting the long valley walk first. The farm lane rolls on, between drystone walls, level and straight, with the narrowing jaws of the valley and the rising packhorse track visible all the way. Up cobbled steps, where the horses hauled carts to the quarries, the steepening way into that quiet hinterland, that indefinite country where Gatescarth Pass continues to its summit, and the Mosedale valley opens up on the right, suggesting a country far removed from human habitation.
This is the way to go. Not into Mosedale itself, which on my one visit here struck me as a place where the miles are far longer than a mile and where people could disappear forever, melting into the landscape. For Tarn Crag, take the Mosedale path, with an eye to where the ascent of Branstree, left, begins alongside a mounting fence, and instead turn right, over featureless slopes, increasingly pitted with peat-bogs, through which the path threads until it reaches the lonely cairn.
There is only one site in Lakeland, as defined by Wainwright, that lies east of here, and that summit it a half hour on, at best, along a dull, damp, peaty ridge, before we reach Grey Crag.
There is no other distinction to this fell that its geographical position. It’s a flat, grassy top, with good views down into Longsleddale, but insufficient height to look at fells beyond the valley rim. Eastwards, the ground dissolves into rounded ridges, where at some point the Lake District comes to an end and indeterminate ground separates the walker who braves this isolation from the Howgill Fells, on the other side of Tebay Gorge. There is no real looking out, only the knowledge that you are looking out, out and away where nothing stirs the eye or the mind.
Descent to Longsleddale is marked by a patchy path, first west across the summit on a slow gradient to find the fence and the stile that permits progress, then a turn almost due south on a clear line descending the shallow green ridge to Great Howe, with its survey pillar off-route to the left, and its Longsleddale views, up and down. The escape off Great Howe isn’t worth risking in mist, with scarps and rock to thread through, as the ground gets steeper and the path a little less clear. But I should be able to safely get to the second stile, where wall and fence meet, and follow the wall towards the valley head until the path breaks and descends the easy gully that leaves you in the upper field. One more stile, and just the lower field to cross to the gate opposite the Sadgill parking facilities.
There was one curiosity I observed, ascending here long ago that should be clear to see in descent. Across the valley, on the flank of Shipman Knotts, I saw an intriguing path, a thing of zigzags, angles and reversals, snaking up the fellside, about halfway between the Kentmere ‘pass’ and Kentmere Pike’s Goat Crag. I instantly wanted to walk it, test it underfoot, but I couldn’t see where it went, up or down. I don’t believe so defined a route can only exist halfway up a fell, but neither Jesty nor Hutchby have teased it out, so either I suffered a sustained optical delusion or it’s a purely private farm path. This one attracts but frustrates the imagination.
From Longsleddale in the east to the furthest west. For the final day of this imaginary holiday, I’ve selected for myself a long walk, of the kind I used to reserve.
It’s long-distance in two senses, first in the drive from Ambleside to reach the starting point, on the crossing of Cold Fell, from Calder Bridge to Ennerdale Bridge, and in the walk itself, twelve miles, there and back. I’ve done longer walks, even on days when I’ve driven from Manchester first, and been returning the same day, but Wainwright warns that the miles are long on this ascent, long and empty. This is more of an endurance test than a walk for pleasure, because I intend to climb Caw Fell.

Caw Fell – far west

Six miles there, on the skyline south of Ennerdale, and six miles back, a long way from anywhere else. My only previous visit to Caw Fell was as an adjunct to ascending Haycock from Nether Beck, Wasdale, the nearest point involving the shortest incursion onto this unloved, wide-spreading fell.
And I’ve walked the beginning of this route, when I set out to collect the westerly group of Grike, Crag Fell and Lank Rigg, parking on the Cold Fell road and setting off along the old miner’s road through the forests. That was easy underfoot, although badly slutchy in at least one point, and if I’m going for the big one, there’s no need to waste time and effort on visiting those first two summits again.
So I can make good time over the first two to three miles of the exercise, on easy gradients that end up dipping to the bottom of the first serious rise. This is where the real walking starts.
And as with Robinson, I can’t recreate a walk never walked. I can only look at Wainwright’s map, and his contours. The dip at the end of the mine road, after passing beside Crag Fell, can’t realistically be called a col, but this is the first of two depressions to be passed as a Ridge Route from the fell. At this point, I’d be about halfway to my destination, with little or no difficulty walking to date.
From here though, I’ll be passing into the unoccupied open, the bare, grassy, unfrequented ridges that prompted me to class this region, from Nether Wasdale to the Loweswater fells, as the Western Margins. From the depression, the path starts to climb, initially quite steeply but then merely inexorably, as I start to scale Iron Crag.
The path is broad, and if it were needed, there’s a wall to the left that runs all the way to Caw Fell and beyond. It’s not a near neighbour as you grind out the ascent onto Iron Crag’s bareback top. I saw that part of the route from Caw Fell, Iron Crag running pretty much south to north, wide and empty. It looked lonely, and paradoxically something that might trigger my incipient vertigo. It’s the building roof/aircraft carrier syndrome, wide flat places with no walls or fences guarding their edges, leaving me uneasy about going over them, no matter how distant I am from anything I can fall over.
Across Iron Crag, there is another dip, a depression to cross, with streams descending westwards towards the grasslands of Whoap and Lank Rigg. Above that, the ridge is gained, and Caw Fell’s final bulk, lying on an east – west axis, the wall still the guide to the flat and exposed highest point. Where exactly that is is a matter of trusting the cairn builders: the cairn is north of the wall, which can be easily crossed to touch it. One half of the job is done.
All that remains is to return. Six miles have got me there, six more will get me back. On peak form, which is always the case in Imaginary Holidays, I’ve a couple of miles and a bit more in reserve, and a couple of thousand feet of untried, and this is not the kind of demanding walking as is involved in Scafell Pike from Seathwaite ascending via Sty Head and the Corridor Route and returning over the other two Pikes, Esk Hause and Grains Gill. Just stride out, ignore the monotony of the walking and the scenery, and who knows: by the time I’m back at the foot of the ascent to Crag Fell, I’ll have enough energy left to vary the return by traversing Crag Fell and Grike again, or maybe even Whoap and Lank Rigg.
Or maybe I’ll just maintain the purity of the only kind of walk I went out of my way to avoid, the pure There and Back Again, where every step of retreat is over the ground crossed in ascent. Back to the Cold Fell road, back to the long drive home by dying sunlight, and into Ambleside. Chicken and chips, eaten out of the paper on a bench beside the Park? It’s been a brilliant week.

Re-Planning Another Lake District Expedition

Maybe not…

Perhaps I should apologise to Northern Rail, not that I have any intention of doing so, not after the farce they made of my Patterdale Expedition last month. However, I did comment that I couldn’t see any timetable for the 508 bus from Windermere to Patterdale once I finally arrived at the former, and the reason for this is that the 508 doesn’t run after the end of October.

So even if everything had worked like the proverbial clockwork, I wasn’t going to get to the Ullswater Steamer anyway.

I’m going to bear things like that in mind for my annual November visit but now I have to remake my plans for the Patterdale Expedition, 2019 version.

The first change is that I am not going to try and do that via Windermere again. Not unless there is a drastic improvement in Northern Rail’s services of a kind that no-one in their right mind currently anticipates. So that automatically means an increase in travelling costs, because the other way to Ullswater by train from Manchester means Penrith, and Penrith means at least half as much again in fares.

But from Patterdale there appears to be a year-round bus service to Pooley Bridge, and the steamer itself is a year-round thing. And I must admit, I like the idea of a Pooley Bridge to Glenridding first leg, getting the head of Ullswater in my sights for the full daylight leg of the journey.

As it happens, I have arranged my holidays for the back half of the work year to give me a four day break every month, in the wake of my Working Sundays, so if we get, say, a cool, crisp February, I might target the Thursday as a putative Patterdale Expedition date.

How does that work? The short answer is, it doesn’t. It’s physically impossible. Assuming the February timetable to be the same as January, it not having been published online yet, and bearing in mind that the Ullswater steamer is based at Glenridding, not Pooley Bridge, there are only three sailings all day, one of them only to Howtown. Therefore the only sailing from Pooley Bridge that returns there, all day, is the 10.35am.

But the bus from Penrith leaves the railway station at 10.20am and takes thirty minutes to the Crown Hotel, not the steamer landings. And the only reasonably priced train from Manchester, everything else being three and a half times dearer, arrives at Penrith at 10.58.

So, unless I travel Wednesday evening and stay overnight in Penrith, Patterdale in February is in practical terms impossible. Let’s revisit that one after Easter, shall we?

So, can I spend any time in Buttermere on a day’s public transport expedition from Manchester?

Planning Another Lake District Expedition

I’m coming back…

Having successfully managed to get myself a round trip on the Ratty and eighty minutes in Central Eskdale all by public transport in a single day, last month, I am now emboldened to plan another expedition to a part of the Lakes that I thought was more or less barred to me by distance and communication.

As some of you may now, for several years I’ve been in the habit of taking a week off in November, around my birthday, and treating myself to a day in the Lakes on the Thursday. Usually, these are pretty staid affairs: train to Windermere, bus to Grasmere, wander round Ambleside, blah de blah. There’s not much margin for variation.

But Eskdale has shown that maybe I’ve got more options that I dismissively thought, and another quick planning session has made it clear I can do something a bit less ordinary for 2018. I’m planning a Patterdale Expedition.

Credit for this must go to Drew Whitworth, whose splendid blog ‘The 214 Wainwright Fells without a car’ covers his determination not only to climb all 214 Wainwrights but complete a second round that includes every summit in the Outlying Fells as well, all via public transport (it’s in the Blogroll on the Home Page, and if you haven’t tried it, do so). His most recent walk included a trip on the Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding and a return from Patterdale on the 508 bus to Windermere. As Wally (Thhe Flash) West used to say, when Mark Waid was scripting his comic, Bing Bing, Bing Bing, Bing Bing.

So: by catching the 8.30am train from Manchester on the relevant date, and waiting 45 minutes for the 508, I can get to and from Glenridding (where I was married) and back for the 5.40pm train, returning to Manchester for 7.25pm. And, having safely arrived at Glenridding, I will have time for the complete round trip on the Ullswater Steamer, Glenridding to Pooley Bridge, calling in at Howtown both ways.

Of course, it’s not perfect. There’ll be no getting off at Pooley Bridge, just there and back, non-stop. And I’ve a 75 minute layover at Glenridding before I can catch the Steamer in the first place, not all of which I can fill by getting a hot meal. But I’m going to have two glorious hours travelling up and down Ullswater, my favourite Lake, the Queen of the Lakes, and I can say that even if it chucks it down the whole time I’m out there.

But if this comes out as well as Eskdale did, there’s all of next summer to play with, and with more sailings, who knows? Time to be a bit ambitious, methinks. Make this one work and we’ll see if I can contrive some quality time at Buttermere for 2019…

Storm Devastation


A couple of days ago, the outline news of the storm that has caused so much destruction and devastation to my beloved Cumbria prompted me to write a post that reminisced about those of my experiences of being caught in rain on the fells that I haven’t already spoken of previously on this blog.

That post isn’t going to appear for a while yet, because I’ve read more about the awful things that have been happening, and I’ve seen photos that fill me with a mixture of awe and horror, and lightweight tales of walking in the rain are wildly inappropriate right now.

News that Pooley Bridge, that lovely old bridge over the outflow of Ullswater, my favourite Lake, has been swept away. Stockley Bridge, in the Seathwaite Valley, was washed away by torrential floods in the great storm of 1966, which happened on the Saturday as we drove home after a week’s holiday (I remember the darkness and the thunderous rain on Buckhaw Brow, just before Settle). It was rebuilt, and eyes like mine who never saw it before would not be able to tell had I not known. But that was the Sixties, and a time of prosperity: from where will come the money to reconstruct Pooley Bridge in these times of austerity, depravation and criminally incompetent doctrinaire Government. It has to be rebuilt: it’s a 32 mile round trip to avoid it. But will something other than a functional bridge be built? Can it be afforded?

News too that, for a couple of days, Glenridding Village has been cut off, that Mountain Rescue have only today got through. Glenridding’s more than just my beloved Ullswater again. There’s a story of a woman whose husband is stranded there, gone to a stag do at the Inn on the Lake for the weekend and unable to return. Giving up his bed to elderly people who would otherwise have had to sleep on sofas.

The Inn on the Lake used to be a more old-fashioned kind of hotel. They closed it for refurbishment and rebranding in November 2000. The last function there before it closed was a wedding. It was my wedding.

I’ve seen photos today. One is of the Vale of Keswick, seen long-distance through a wide-angled lens. Once upon a time, in a younger era of the world, there was no Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, just one uber-lake, stretching from the Jaws of Borrowdale to the beginnings of the North Cumbrian Plain. That uber-lake is all but with us again.

And I’ve seen a photo of the A591, the ‘Kendal-Keswick’ road, below Dunmail Raise, where the road is narrow at the head of the Thirlmere Valley, and almost half that road is washed away, a great, jagged ripping away of the western side of the carriageway, replaced by a massive earthen ditch along which water roils. This is not CGI. This is a road I have driven hundreds of times, north and south, the main central road through the Lakes and in that section it’s impassable.

Record amounts of rain have fallen, literally. The record has been broken, on, of all places, Honister Pass, not even Seathwaite, traditionally the wettest place in England. Seathwaite, out-rained! What is this world now?

I’m nowhere near and I could be of no help if I were. I’m in no danger, to life and limb and property and possessions. But my heart breaks along with those people to whom I am in spirit a brother, and this is no time for words that celebrate rain and rainfall.

Cheap Cumbrian Thrills – a few additional notes

Re-acquainting myself with the library last month, for the first time since before Christmas, my eyes happened to light upon Martin Edwards’ The Frozen Shroud, the sixth and, to date last, in his Lake District Mysteries series featuring Historian Daniel Kind and Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett of the Cumbria Constabulary Cold Crimes Squad.

Thinking it was a new book, I thought I’d give it a peruse, but I had in fact read it before, but simply not commented upon it. Feeling in the mood for a bit of malicious chastisement, and suffering from sufficient a degree of anal retentivity as to be faintly disturbed at leaving one book out, I thought I’d pass a few comments on the same.

It’s possible that this may be the last book of the series: after all, it ends with the two will-they-won’t-they-oh -get-on-with-it protagonists finally planning a shagging weekend in Wales after assiduously spending over two-thirds of the book avoiding each other rigidly on the grounds that now all complications keeping them from getting it together have been erased that they aren’t actually interested in each other at all. So, bang goes the sexual tension, which is more than the sexual tension had been going in the first place.

Plus Hannah’s publicity-seeking Deputy Chief Constable has legged it out of the Force, no longer blocking Hannah’s route to further promotion.

And, on a more sobering note, the present day murder victim is Hannah’s best friend and polar opposite, Terry, her face battered in in a brutal crime intended to echo two similar incidents – one deeply historical – which have given rise to rumours of a ghost. The killer is the least likely person, naturally, until a motive common to the present killing and the one of five years ago with which Edwards opens the book, presents itself as the closing pages approach.

The setting for this crime is once again Ullswater, in the shape of a fictional peninsula on the east shore of the lake, south of Howtown, which forms an effective closed community, inhabited by flamboyant, arty types. The book’s title is not linked to any pseudo-Cumbrian place or thing, but rather the brutal crime, which is less offensive, but mostly the book’s plus points are negativities: that it doesn’t try too hard to persuade you that it is taking place in the Lakes.

The same old criticisms apply: a complete absence of sense of place (it takes a bit more than placing Helvellyn ‘opposite’ and having Hallin Fell ‘loom’ over the scene at convenient moments when the latter is only a small fell to begin with and far too far north of Helvellyn to be in any meaningful sense opposite). Nor does anyone in the book talk remotely Cumbrian. But I repeat myself. And really, the out-of-place names for places and things are just trite this time instead of unreflective.

As a by the by, this is not the only crime fiction story I’ve read of late to set itself in the Lake District. When I’m after undemanding, easy-to-read fiction that I can just breeze through without being tempted to blog, I’ve read several of Edward Marston’s Railway Detective series: polite, mid-Victorian crime, very professional, slightly formulaic stuff whose selling point is that the crimes are all, in one way or another, connected to or facilitated by the burgeoning rail network of the 1850s. Former Barrister Robert Colbeck of the Metropolitan Police is the go-to guy for any train crime, much to the disgust of his stuffy, ex-Army Superintendent Mr Tallis and his home-loving, train-fearing Sergeant, Victor Leeming.

Marston’s most recent contribution to the series, which now includes a dozen novels, is a collection of short stories, a dozen indeed, spanning the whole country and including, in one tale, Ravenglass Station. Now that’s what you call personal, not merely on behalf of my spiritual county, but my great grandfather, who was Stationmaster at Ravenglass Station. Probably not quite as far back as the Railway Detective’s celebrated visit, but that’s not the point.

Honestly, Marston must have done no research whatsoever into Ravenglass Village, because the kind of community he plonked down for Colbeck to investigate made Edwards’s efforts look like a documentary. If you’re going to be that casual about your subject, bloody well make something up instead, so it doesn’t matter.

Oh well, at least I’ve got that off my chest.


A Walk Along The Canal

The Peak Forest Canal at Marple

As I’ve written before, when my parents first decided that we would henceforth spend our Lake District holidays in walking, I wasn’t the most receptive of children. My boots were too tight, too heavy, it was too far, too steep, I didn’t like it, and the fact that my younger sister seemed perfectly happy wasn’t helping any.

I got over that stage when we set out to climb Sty Head out of Wasdale Head. I had a purpose, a cause: ever since I had learned of its existence, I wanted to see Green Gable. Everybody could see Great Gable, but its slighter, hidden cousin fascinated me, and Sty Head was going to be my first chance.

And my enthusiasm was confirmed when we reached the point where the path slid across the great scree fanning down from the distant Napes Ridges, and my mother took one look and decreed that my sister would go no further, not across that. They would retreat to the beck, paddle their feet, whilst Dad and I would go on alone, the men of the party.

I have far too few memories of being around my Dad alone: father and son together without interruptions. I wanted to see Green Gable, I was trusted to go ahead with him, I wanted to live up to his expectations, I wanted to be the son we all want ourselves to be at that age, and so we went on, and I didn’t grumble, moan or complain, and we came out onto the top of the pass, saw Sty Head Tarn, ahead and below, saw a sliver of green slope out beyond the curve of Great Gable’s breast that meant I’d fulfilled my aim, and then we set off back, to get our share of paddling.

That didn’t mean I was cured. There was a visit to Mill Gill, an attempt of Harrison Stickle via Pike How, on a day that began with blazing skies before transmuting into low cloud that imprisoned us perhaps no more than a hundred feet below the summit until we gave in. That early part of the day was scorching, the fellside unbelievably steep, my whole body unwilling to proceed. Doubtless I whined again.

The pains in Dad’s shoulder, that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of terminal cancer, kept us away from the Lakes for almost eighteen months. After he died, the end to weeks and months of strain as his body failed, an impromptu holiday was set up, a week away that involving taking we children out of school, no objections raised. It wasn’t a success, we chose a poor week for weather, I’d gotten hooked on pop music by then and Medium Wave reception in the Lakes was pants.

But holidays continued as they always had, just without Dad. We chose self-catering cottages, got away twice a year, went walking. It was still the same.

In 1972, in pursuit of fundraising for something of which I have no memory, Burnage High School held a sponsored walk. It was on a Tuesday, and the School would be closed for the day and everyone would participate. It wasn’t compulsory: those who didn’t want to walk, or couldn’t, could withdraw, but that amounted to maybe three boys out of a School of 700.

We would walk the length of the Peak Forest Canal, from Denton in Manchester to its terminus at Whaley Bridge, in north Derbyshire, a long way down the A6, sheltered under the moors that protected Buxton. It was an awkward, uneven length that, for official purposes, was designated to be 20km. We were issued with sponsorship forms and duplicated diagrams, breaking down the route.

I looked forward to it. I was sixteen, young and fit, and I was already a walker. True, this was not walking as I knew it, 99% flat (there was a section, approximately midway, where the canal ran through a long tunnel, either in too poor a state to negotiate, or else deemed too long to risk boys not falling in, which was by-passed by a brief diversion off-route, steeply uphill for maybe 150′, and just as steeply down again). But I had a bit of a rivalry going on with my mate Brian, aka Zack, one of only two boys whose nicknames pursued them into the Sixth Form, where we started using first names for the first time, who was loudly boasting of how he’d walk my legs off and finish miles ahead of me.

We had to turn up at School at more or less the usual time, then mill around until the coaches shuttled us off to Denton and the start. Zack and I ended up on different coaches – we were in different forms – and I was five minutes ahead of him when we were discharged on this back street in Denton, racing down to the towpath and turning left for Whaley Bridge.

I had my boots, and walking socks on, a good thick pullover, and my anorak in my rucksack. I set off with a will and didn’t stop. It was the first time I’d been let off the leash, allowed to walk at whatever pace suited me, and I took full advantage.

For a flat canal, it was an interesting and varied walk in the morning hours. We passed through tunnels where once bargemen would have walked their craft along, their feet to the tunnel roof. We crossed a high brick aqueduct, one of us quite gingerly. It rained two or three times. None of it stopped me. I pulled my anorak on and off on the march, ate my sandwiches whilst stomping along. Some of it was the desire not to have Zack catch me up and overtake it, but most of it was the sheer freedom to do so. I didn’t stop because I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to wait for anyone else, or gear myself to their frailties. I was sixteen and I walked on because I could, and I liked knowing that.

When I reached the lunch place, hundreds of boys lazing around, I didn’t stop. I wasn’t tired (besides, I’d already eaten all the butties) and it was back to the towpath and through New Mills, passing the backs of factories, having missed the women coming out to eat their lunch snap in the open air. Then a short rise to cross the main road, and all the towns were behind us.

The latter half of the walk was a bit more tedious. The weather had settled, grown warm, enough to be just slightly stuffy. My legs were beginning to ache. And we were out into the country now, following the curve of a long, slow, green valley. It ought to have been more my style but it wasn’t. Nothing changed. I stared at the same wooded hillsides, with nothing new entering the view.

The last diversion was to cross a road, join the final stretch of the Canal along what seemed like a spur, into the barge-filled basin that marked the end, beyond which sweaty boys of all ages set up a barrage of chatter. A check of my watch, four hours, almost to the very minute, twenty kilometres in four hours, non-stop. I settled to wait for Zack, already smug.

It was a long wait, forty-five minutes before he rolled into sight. Deduct the five minutes between coaches at the School, I had been forty minutes faster than him. Which, by the strangest of coincidences, was exactly as long as he’d spent at the lunch-place, or so he said. I had little enough chances for superiority back then, I wasn’t going to accept that.

It had been a great day. Unfortunately, it was to do me no good at all when it came to holidays in the Lakes. Nothing had changed, except me. I had had my eyes open as to what I was capable of doing, and having that limited to the slow progression and frequent halts of the elders chafed. I wanted to get off ahead, see the next horizon, and the one beyond it as well, not spend all day in the same valley. I wanted summits, and once I reached one (which was usually our limit in a seven day holiday) I saw no reason not to go on to the next one, instead of returning by the identical route we’d used to ascend.

I was at University now, eighteen and older, but still I counted for nothing, was a child to be told what I would do and where I would go, and that wasn’t going to change. There were other things that frustrated me: the day over, the evening meal consumed, the pots washed, I would persist in asking where would be going tomorrow, despite the answer being some minor variation on ‘you haven’t finished with today yet’.

Yes, the mere idea of thinking ahead, of setting a destination for the next day (if the weather’s decent, we might go down Eskdale and walk to Throstlegarth), seemed to be an anathema. In my mother it was a complete  difference of personality: she could never understand me working out what walks I wanted to do on a week away, didn’t know why I bothered walking them if I’d already worked out where I was going, couldn’t understand the joy of planning, anticipation, the satisfaction of a plan working coupled with the complete freedom to do something totally different if I felt like it, or the weather changed.

It wouldn’t have mattered as much if they hadn’t been so bloody slow in the morning about deciding where to go. Breakfast, and pots, cups of tea, making butties and an absolute refusal to consider where they might take us until they were ready to get into the car, and even then it would take ages to make a decision. As the next couple of years progressed, it got so slow that it would usually be 11.30am before we even left the cottage, hours of good walking time wasted and me bored skullless, waiting for something to happen.

I may be projecting what I want to think on my absent Dad, but to me he was the driving force. He’d wanted to go fell-walking, he was thrilled by the Wainwrights, he looked ahead. He only ever reached three summits, Middle Fell and Lingmell in Wasdale, and Haystacks, and I credit him for the fact that we actually climbed a fell outside of that quarter from Wasdale round to Langdale. My mother even said that she was only interested in that part of the Lakes, a claim I still cannot comprehend. How can you love the Lakes and not want all of it? Not want to gulp all of it down and see all the beauty it can offer? I believe my Dad felt that, that he wanted to see new things, not only the same old places over and again, that he was only waiting for my sister and I go be old enough…

There was one more thing on top. My Uncle developed some kind of stomach condition, I know not what, that meant that once he had eaten, further uphill progression became painful. He’d go on as long as he could, but eventually he’d have to eat… One more governor, one further limitation.

Somehow, I have no idea how or why, I got my own way for once. In August 1975, we foresook South West Lakeland for the North East. A cottage in Stainton, a base for Ullswater, the long awaited chance to go and see Haweswater, now it wasn’t ‘too far to drive’. August 1975, a prelude to the following year’s Drought Summer. I wanted to revel in it, in all these new views around me, but I had made another mistake.

You see, I’d just been away on holiday. With the lads. A week in Blackpool, six days at home, a week in the Lakes. I’d had a week of doing things for myself, taking responsibility. One of four, like in the Lakes, but one with a voice, a say, an equal share in what we chose to do. Saturday to Saturday, then, a Saturday later it’s off to the Lakes, nineteen years old, staring down the barrel of my third and final year at University, but still a kid, still nothing, still to be told what to do and where to do. Even when we were on the holiday that was chosen for me.

It was ironic that, by early-evening on the Sunday, I was telling my mother that this was the last family holiday I was coming on. And it was.

As I’ve already said, the week endied in an appropriately symbolic fashion. We set off to climb Helvellyn, significantly higher than anything we’d ever climbed before, and by Striding Edge. We got to the far end of the Edge, the bit where you have to climb down a ten foot rock chimney, and just as on Sty Head, almost a decade before, my mother took one look and decreed that my sister wasn’t going down that.

It was the ultimate frustration. I was furious, though I knew better than to let any of it slip. But Mam surprised me. We never talked about it, but I think it was because this was my last day with them. It was a gesture, or apology, or understanding, of release, but she stunned everyone by saying there was no reason I couldn’t go on on my own, reach the summit, meet them back at the Hole in the Wall.

Of course I had to be roped up to be let down the chimney (there were always strings attached, literally in this case) but after that I was on my own, trusted. I forgot all of them. I was so adrenalised by my freedom that I shot up the screes from Striding edge to the summit plateau in ten glorious, furious minutes of scrambling. Look what I can do!

The next year, and the years that followed, they went away and I stayed home, enjoying a week of freedom. Without a car, or the money to own and run one, the Lakes were out of reach for years. My next visit was the only other time I went to the Lakes again with my family: a Bank Holiday Monday day-out with my sister’s boyfriend and future husband making up the party. We went to Wasdale Head: it was baking hot, the lake shone like a silver coin, we had nothing to do and Department S’s “Is Vic There?” was playing on the radio.

Two months later, I bought my first car, to get to the Roses Match at Headingley. In October, I went up to the Lakes to practice driving round narrow, winding roads. The next time I went there, again on my own, encumbered by no-one, I took my boots. I put them on for Helm Crag. A lot followed.

Great Walks: Fairfield to St. Sunday Crag

Grisedale on a Summer’s morning

Fairfield is usually climbed as the head of its Horseshoe, and a fantastic day’s walking that provides if, as I have previously explained, the choice is made to traverse anti-clockwise.
But to do so is to see only those expansive and grassy but somewhat dull and tedious parts of the fell, and to deny yourself sight of the cliffs that overlook Deepdale and Fairfield’s north-eastern flanks.
An alternate aphproac, preceded by a lot of comparatively gentle walking, does repair quite a lot of that omission and, once the climb from the valley is completed, offers a beautiful and enthralling high level traverse from Fairfield to St Sunday Crag to return to Patterdale.
The start for this walk is once again Grisedale, and all the usual warnings about an early arrival so as to take advantage of the very limited parking available at the mouth of the valley applies equally here. On the other hand, if forced to park at the opposite end of Patterdale Village, there is an alternate, slightly contrived ending to the walk that brings you back almost directly to your car.
Assuming arrival at Grisedale in sufficient time to claim advantage, take the road into the valley. This is quiet and shaded, and its dips and rises help get the legs into shape for the heavy work to be done later. Where the road emerges into the valley and turns ninety degrees right, leave it at a gate directly ahead for the start of the long walk to Grisedale Pass.
The route along the valley is wide and level, and offers frequent patches of shading from what will hopefully be a very yellow sun in a clear blue sky. A good marching pace can be maintained until the valley begins to narrow and the path to rise, emerging from its accompanying fence and following the beck as it climbs towards the summit of the Pass, on the very lip of Grisedale. Once a clear, low skyline makes itself apparent, look rightwards for a flat-faced rock, angled slightly towards the north side of the valley. Cross to this when you see it, to inspect the famous ‘Brothers Parting’.

This marks the point at which the poet William Wordsworth last parted from his sea captain brother John, the latter dying at sea five years later without seeing his brother again. The lettering is very weathered: indeed, the last time I was here, it was only possible to read the inscription by looking across the rock from left to right at a very tight angle. The time will come, if it has not already, when the inscription will fade into complete illegibility.
Opinions vary on the best way to start a walk. My own preference is to start gaining height as soon as possible, to get above the valley and start to experience the breezes and the expanding horizons. But a walk like this offers the opposite experience, the appeal of tracing a valley to its head, as the high fells surrounding it enclose the narrowing space, and the ridge is reached, offering a view into a different landscape.
The head of Grisedale is the summit of the Pass. It reveals the glacial bowl that holds Grisedale Tarn, below, to the west of the ridge. An initially ill-defined line leads forward and round to the foot of the Dollywaggon Zigzags, the classic foothold onto the Helvelyn Range, butFairfield lies in the opposite direction, and the way is not particluarly attractive.
This is because from here to the summit of Fairfield, there is a lot of height to be gained for a relatively short movement forward. In short, this section of the walk is a grind, an unremittingly steep ascent with little to interest but getting it over. It’s sole merit is that all the worst of the climbing is concentrated into one single session, and once Fairfield’s broad and flat top is reached, you can relax in knowing that everything ahead is delightful.
Glimpses will already be had of the continuation of the walk, northwards back to Patterdale, and most walker’s eyes will have been drawn to the outcrop of Cofa Pike, high and steep-sided on a clearly narrow ridge. For the moment, take a breather at the cairn, the highest point on the walk, rehydrate with the liquid of your choice, and have a bite to eat.
St. Sunday Crag lies northwards, but first time visitors are urged to wander towards the south, descending gently to the edge of the plateau, until they emerge above the Afternoon arm of the Horseshoe and can take in that extraordinary broad and deep vista of the west of Lakeland (previous visitors will need no urging to renew acquaintance with the sight). Plans to walk the Horseshoe will be accelerated immediately.
But now the best part of the walk is ahead.
Leave the summit cairn due north, towards the one point on Fairfield’s top that narrows to a defined ridge. It’s rocks, and the steep upthrust of Cofa Pike, only a short distance down the ridge, will have most walkers looking forward intensely to the next half hour. The ridge demands concentration, especially on the approach to Cofa Pike, which looks formidable and difficult to pass. The experienced walker will take this in their stride, though it’s a place to be avoided in high winds or snowy and icy conditions.

Cofa Pike and St. Sunday Crag.

The adrenalin burn continues down its further slopes to the broad and easy col at Deepdale Hause, from which Fairfield’s cliffs, unsuspected from the Horseshoe, give a new impression of the fell to those only familiar with its western and southern aspects. Deepdale lies to the right, drawing attention.
Ahead lies St Sunday Crag, offering a wide and comfortable ridge to ascend. It offers no difficulty except to stamina in older walkers, and time should be taken to appreciate the superb views back to Griasedale Pass, and the Tarn beyond, nestled in its sheltering hollow. It’s a view that begs to be photographed, and I am still kicking myself that in my eagerness to get out to the Lakes that June Saturday I forgot to grab my camera case and have no record of it.

Grisedale Tarn, looking to St. Sunday Crag

The slope eases as it rises, but the back of St Sunday Crag is broad enough to conceal all sight of Ullswater until reaching the summit cairn.
The best views are from the north-east ridge, including the classic scene of the upper reach of Ullswater, rich and blue among the fields of Patterdale, which comes into prominence only a short way down the ridge. This remains in view ahead during a long descent that is a delight at every step.
At the foot of the ridge, those walkers who have had enough (a stance justified only by injury, complete fatigue or a soullessness that I can’t believe) may continue downwards, on the northern flank, descending to cross Glenamara Park (which readers of the First edition Wainwrights will always know as Glamara Park). But it is better in every respect to follow the flat ridge directly ahead, which has been fully exposed on the descent, to the summit of Birks, the primary outlier of St Sunday Crag, itself with an excellent, more intimate view of the head of the Lake.
Descend directly from Birks to join the path into the lightly wooded Glenamara Park, though be warned that this is a bit of a knee-cracker. All that is left is a gentle stroll towards Grisedale Beck, which is crossed by a bridge at the mouth of the valley, returning to the valley road for a short walk back to your car.
Those who were not early enough to park in the limited spaces on the valley road face a walk of half a mile or more, either to the other end of Patterdale Village or, in extremis, the car park in Glenridding Village. The former can avoid the necessary tramp down the road by a slightly contrived diversion off the route described, starting fro Birks’ summit.
Instead of descending north towards Glenamara Park, leave the summit in the opposite direction, scrambling down a largely pathless slope towards the company of a broken wall. At its foot, an intermittent path can be picked up, bearing left, which leads to the oddly-shaped Trough Head, an enclosed dell at the head of the tiny valley of Hag Beck. Drop round and into Trough Head and take a rambling path from its further flank that leads to the miniature outcrops of Arnison Crag, a second and much-removed spur of st Sunday Crag’s north-east ridge, whose main claim to fame is that it is the first fell in the first Wainwright, The Eastern Fells.
Descend from the summit alongside the wall, to pick up a path at its foot that follows the edge of Glenamara Park past Mill Moss – once a rubbish tip but now delightfully restored to beauty, according to Jesty – before emerging from behind a block of Public Conveniences to the only other parking area in Patterdale.
It all makes for a memorable day and a memorable walk, but I hope that any who take this way will walk it without the memories that indelibly attach to my visit. I set off to return home by rounding Ullswater and heading for Shap and the M6. I had a cassette in the player, which ran out about 3.50pm so I decided to have ten minutes of radio and take in the 4.00pm news. The news lead with the item that had been occupying the broadcasts since mid-morning, of which until that moment I knew nothing: The IRA Bomb in the centre of Manchester.

Little Gems – Hallin Fell

Ullswater (lower reach) from Hallin Fell summit

If you find yourself in the Penrith area, with an afternoon to kill, on a sunny day, you don’t even need to have walking boots with you to enjoy the ascent of Hallin Fell, another little gem that offers views out of all proportion to the effort required to reach its square summit, dominated by an obelisk cairn.
For those actually starting from Penrith, a roundabout approach should be taken. Rather than head straight for Pooley Bridge, at the foot of Ullswater, take the main A66 west towards Keswick, and at the big roundabout, a mile outside Penrith, take the exit left for Ullswater and enjoy a leisurely, country approach, with the rolling hills accompanying the lower reach of the Lake inviting you forward.
The road ends with the first glimpse of Ullswater, which, many years ago, was my first sighting of the Lake. It’s a view down the length of the lower reach, to Howtown Bay and the first dogleg. Hallin Fell, on the far side of the Lake, lies directly ahead, its 12′ obelisk of a cairn clearly visible from this distance.
Turn left towards Pooley Bridge, and, at the far end of the village, right and right again, signposted Howtown to locate the narrow road snaking along the eastern shore of the Lake. Howtown itself is sheltered in its bay, under the foot of Hallin Fell. Once past the boat landings, where the Ullswater steamer pulls in, the road bears left, into open country for the first time, and starts climbing towards the Hause, which links Hallin Fell to the outlying ridges of the High Street range, to the east.
It’s a lovely, narrow, quasi-Alpine road, swinging back and forth and is a joy to drive (as long as someone isn’t trying to come down it at the same time). There is offroad parking for about twenty cars on the Hause.
Like Latrigg, there is a direct approach, up the back of the fell, which is undistinguished but keeps the lovely view as a surprise, or there is a gentler, much more entertaining, roundabout route that gives a more enjoyable ascent at the expense of revealing the view on the way.
The direct route is obvious, a broad swath through the bracken, leading uphill, and completely safe in trainers (unless it has been raining and is still wet, in which case purchase underfoot may be dodgy). Fifteen to twenty minutes of none too rushed walking should bring you out on top.
Alternatively, a narrower path leaves the further end of the Hause, using a gate to gain access to the open fellside. It continues in a gentle circuit around the southern flank of the fell, gradually gaining in height. Ullswater’s middle reach is immediately in view below, and as the walk takes you further round towards the western flank, above the Lake. Place Fell rises invitingly to the left, Gowbarrow fell’s green ridge undulates across the Lake, and the further you progress, the wider the views towards the Helvellyn range, south west, expand.
The route eventually peters about above bluffs above the Lake, which are a perfect place to just sit, watch and enjoy the sun, especially as you will be alone.
However, the summit must not be ignored. This is only some two hundred feet higher and the absence of paths is no bar to an easy stroll to join the (relative) crowds.
The summit occupies a broad, rocky platform with superb views along the middle and lower reaches of Ullswater. It is doubtful that you will get the experience I had on my first visit here: we saw an RAF helicopter hovering only a hundred feet or so above the lake, under the shelter of Hallin Fell which, almost the moment we detected it, started up the flank of the fell, soaring over our heads on the summit by no more than fifty feet.
If time permits, some exploration can be indulged in on the way back to the car. A path leaves the summit towards the north and progresses in a remarkably straight line downhill, until the slope gets too steep for comfort. Several cross paths will have been traversed on the northern flank: take the last of these and turn right, towards the eastern flank, above the road to the Hause. This provides easy walking through the bracken until it joins the direct descent to the Hause and the car.
For such a small fell, a surprising amount of walking can go into a single half-day expedition, all of it delightful.